Friday, May 16, 2014

Video Girl (2011): The Formula of Faith

Video Girl (2011)
dir: Ty Hodges

Chick Tracts were once a common part of the Baptist experience. They told formulaic stories of people losing themselves and finding salvation in Christ. The formulas were passed down through the annals of time, and constantly updated to reflect the changing times.

One of the most common ones was a person from the small town going to the big city and losing themselves in sin before finding salvation back at home. This formula has been adapted through the ages, including Valley of the Dolls, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Mahogany, and now Video Girl. All of these movies are adaptations of the same basic formula through the ages, and only one is a satire.

The title character is Lorie, a young adult girl from Small Town Anywhere. Lorie is a mousy fragile student who works in an antique shop and is besties with Jason, a young handsome man who wants to make it to the NBA, despite not getting a college scholarship. Lorie has taken a break from college following a car accident that happened one party night. The car accident shattered her knee and her dreams of being a ballet dancer.

While out dancing with her sister, Lorie finds the attraction of the music video director, Shark (no, I'm not kidding), and is personally invited to be in the video he is shooting the next day. At the behest of her outgoing sister, she goes to the set and becomes a featured "video girl," as in the model who stands next to the rapper and does nothing but gyrate, getting paid $800 for the effort.

Shark then invites Lorie out to LA to be his girlfriend and personal video girl, but doesn't want her to have a career outside his own, making her a kept woman. After interactions with other more independent video girls, Lorie develops a coke habit, fights for her own dependence, becomes a wreck on the set, becomes just another video girl and has an encounter with the "director's couch" before ultimately ending up drugged and passed out next to a dumpster. After a stay at the hospital, Lorie returns home to find Jesus and peace with her mind.

Just to hammer home the idea that video girls are all shallow pieces of crap that need to be saved, Ty Hodges finishes the film with a during credits reel of interviews with other video girls who start to comment on other girls and how they're better than everybody else. You know, because a video girl may watch this, and be saved to find peace back home among family. Never you mind any of their back stories.

What this movie has in adapting for the times, it lacks in subtlety and quality. While Ty Hodges fills the frame with beautiful people, including Haylie Duff (sister of Hilary) and Dolce & Gabbana model Adam Senn, they're all merely competent as actors. The acting is the quality of a small community church play warning about the evils of the big city. Coming off worse is the central actress Meagan Good, whose transition from innocent fearful broken girl to coke-addicted ego-driven delusional semi-success is wracked with overacting that doesn't even go over the top enough for hilarity.

The problem with writing about Video Girl is that it is like kicking a puppy when it's down, except when you realize just how corrupt the vision in this movie is. Video Girl warns that Los Angeles will eat most small town girls alive, and that it will turn you into your most immoral self if you don't have a penis. Not one of the success stories in Video Girl is a woman. And, women can't help themselves. They will be turned into party girls by their friends.

Men, however, can be rappers or directors or producers or basketball stars (Jason eventually lands a position with the LA Clippers), and they will not kowtow to the corrupting nature of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the only successful woman is Nana, the hardworking teacher in a small town who has no ambitions to be anything bigger than a teacher. She doesn't dream anything but for her grandchildren, after their mother died somehow. Lorie's sister dies for her boyfriend's sins. Lorie becomes a drug-addicted broken woman who can be saved. The video girls are all shallow objects. And, even the radio host is a corrupting force who objectifies Lorie before she falls prey to the nature of LA.

The other moral that this movie doesn't want you to notice is that there are people who are successful in Los Angeles who aren't completely horrible terrible people. You don't actually have to fall prey to all of the various temptations that the new Babylon holds for good small town Christians like the viewers. But, we're supposed to think that Shark is an evil person because he hangs with a girl that he hung with when Lorie first met him 90 minutes earlier (though he spends the rest of the movie bashing her and her reputation). We're supposed to think all of LA is like the rapist producer who will slip you GHB just to get into your pants, and everybody there is corrupt. Unless you're a basketball star, because they're always honorable.

Video Girl is a deceptive film that is meant to be soothing to those who believe it. It is preaching to the choir, but it's low budget trappings (such as an over-dependence on handheld) and bad acting undermine any impact the movie actually has to the people who aren't already pre-disposed to hate on Los Angeles. It's totally judgey, really sexist, and overly silly. But, there aren't enough transgressively hilarious moments for Video Girl to stand up next to the likes of Mahogany. Not to mention, unlike Mahogany, Video Girl doesn't give Lorie any success to look up to, and instead says the best a black girl can attain is kept woman or an all-too-low-paid schoolteacher (they do need to be paid more). Which is a really really sad statement.

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